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Twin services in Norwich and London today mark 100 years since executed heroine Edith Cavell was brought home to Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 09:47 15 May 2019

Edit Cavell's coffin arrives in Norwich and is escorted from the railway station by soldiers and nurses. Picture: Archant Library

Edit Cavell's coffin arrives in Norwich and is escorted from the railway station by soldiers and nurses. Picture: Archant Library

Archant

The journey home of martyr and heroine Edith Cavell is being retraced, a century on, as part of twin commemorations in Westminster Abbey and Norwich Cathedral.

Edith Cavell's coffin is carried from Norwich Cathedral to her grave on May 15, 1919. Picture: Archant LibraryEdith Cavell's coffin is carried from Norwich Cathedral to her grave on May 15, 1919. Picture: Archant Library

Exactly a century ago, on May 15, 1919, a steam train shuddered to a halt at Norwich's Thorpe Station. Hundreds of uniformed soldiers and nurses watched as a coffin, draped in a union flag and covered with wreaths, was reverently unloaded. Edith Cavell was home.

Crowds thronged the route of the sombre procession as the mortal remains of the martyred nurse were carried, on a gun carriage pulled by black horses, up Prince of Wales Road, and along Tombland to the Cathedral.

Today, May 15, 2019, the centenary of Edith Cavell's homecoming is being marked by services in Westminster Abbey and Norwich Cathedral, with clergy from both great cathedrals travelling together between the services by train - tracing the route Edith took exactly a century ago.

Her funeral service was held at Westminster Abbey and, a century on, the Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, will preach in London, with the Dean of Westminster preaching in Norwich this evening, at a centenary service beginning at 6.30pm in the Cathedral and concluding by Edith Cavell's grave. All are welcome.

The Edith Cavell memorial in Norwich. Picture: Paul HurstThe Edith Cavell memorial in Norwich. Picture: Paul Hurst

A hundred years ago this paper reported on the scenes in Norwich as Edith was brought home, saying: "The onlookers bore themselves with an air of stillness that would have been unthinkable in circumstances less calculated to appeal to the deep emotions."

The Norfolk nurse and heroine had worked in Brussels, treated wounded soldiers fighting on both sides of the First World War, and helped more than 200 allied soldiers escape from the Germans. Sentenced to death for treason she was shot at dawn by a German firing squad in October 1915.

Her murder sent shockwaves around the world.

Edith was originally buried close to where she was killed. But just months after the end of the war she was exhumed and brought home. Crowds lined the streets of Brussels to honour her as her coffin left the city and a service was held at the railway station before she was taken to Ostend and then, by Royal Navy destroyer, across the Channel to Dover. On May 15 she arrived at London Victoria and the capital came to a standstill as her coffin was escorted to Westminster Abbey.

Edith Cavells grave is blessed and dedicated by Bishop Graham James after a restoration 
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYEdith Cavells grave is blessed and dedicated by Bishop Graham James after a restoration PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

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Here, Edith's funeral service was attended by members of the Royal family and senior politicians. And then she was carried to Liverpool Street and brought by train to her home county and final resting place. After a second packed service she was laid to rest beside Norwich Cathedral.

"From behind the roped enclosure great crowds watched this closing act in the great drama of Nurse Cavell's life," the report read. "It was near evenfall when the Bishop, standing before the open grave in the calm and picturesque enclosure of Life's Green, performed the last rite of the Church over one of her noblest daughters…A serenity and ineffable beauty clung to this closing scene."

Speaking beside her grave, in the shadow of the Cathedral, the Bishop of Norwich, told the crowds: "Here we welcome the dear form of Edith Cavell among her own people."

As he finished, thousands of onlookers joined in the singing of Abide with Me, the hymn Edith had sung to herself before she faced the firing squad.

Her famous words, the night before her death, have inspired people for more than a century. "Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone," she said. I have no fear nor shrinking; I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me."

She lived and died a heroine, and her legacy is honoured, not just in Norfolk, or Britain, but around the world.

For more details of Edith Cavell's Norfolk roots and international reach, visit www.edithcavell.org.uk or take the seven mile walking or cycling pilgrimage trail between Norwich Cathedral and Edith's birthplace in Swardeston - online at www.cathedral.org.uk

For more details of Edith Cavell's Norfolk roots and international reach, visit www.edithcavell.org.uk or take the seven mile walking or cycling pilgrimage trail between Norwich Cathedral and Edith's birthplace in Swardeston - online at www.cathedral.org.uk



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